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Kamran Scot Aghaie, Chair CAL 528 | 204 W 21st St F9400 | Austin, TX 78712-1029 • 512-471-3881

Fall 2008

MES 321K • Saracens in Medieval Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
42536 MW
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
PAR 301

Course Description

In the European Middle Ages, Muslims, Arabs, Turks, Persians, Berbers, and even Moors were often identified in literature and historical texts under an invented common group name, "Saracens," a form of naming repeated in literature long after the Middle Ages, all the way up to at least the 19th century, to refer to Islamic foreigners of various kinds. This course is an invitation to explore who, and what, a "Saracen" is. Where does the name come from, what does it mean, and what relationships are thought to exist between "Saracens" and other medieval peoples, such as Europeans, Jews, and Mongols? We'll read a selection of literature, historical documents, and critical scholarship on how Saracens appear in European medieval romances and epics, crusade literature, travel narratives, maps, and polemical treatises. For critical contrast, we'll also read a selection of Islamic texts on some of the most famous (or infamous) Saracens known to medieval Europe: the great Kurdish emir, Saladin, the nefarious Order of the Assassins, and highly respected philosophers like Avicenna and Averroes. We'll consider why the Islamic/Saracen paradise fascinated medieval Europeans, and continues to fascinate the West today. We'll study the depiction of special figures such as the Saracen princess, young Saracen warriors, and Saracen giants, to see what cultural investments find articulation through such figures.

Grading Policy

Course requirements: a term paper of at least 12 pages (50%), 2 in-class presentations (30%), attendance and active participation (20%). Texts listed here are suggestive, not final. All texts read in modern English translation.


Possible texts (likely to be reduced): Song of Roland; Roman de Saladin (the romance of Saladin); Baha ad-Din, Biography of Saladin; La Filled du Comte de Pontieu (the Daughter of the Count of Pontieu); Selections on the Order of the Assassins; Richard Coer de Lyon (Middle English romance of Richard Lionheart); Ambroise, L'Estoire de la Guerre Sainte (the History of the Holy War); Sultan of Babylon; Firumbras; King of Tars; Selections on the Islamic Paradise; Mandeville's Travels; Packet of readings


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